Interview with Mr. Sophealeak Ing, Founder & Managing Partner at ANANT Law Firm

This week, we interviewed Mr. Sophealeak Ing, the managing partner of ANANT Law Firm, a recently established full-service law firm. Mr Ing has built a very strong reputation over the last 16 years as a leading lawyer in energy, projects & infrastructure and real estate and construction. Mr Ing shares with us his vision as a lawyer on his practice, his relationship with clients and more broadly on the Cambodian business environment.

EuroCham: Congratulations on opening a new firm! Could you provide a brief introduction to the firm and tell us about its overarching mission?

Sophealeak: ANANT means infinite, limitless, endless, and that's why we came up with this name, because we want to connect with our clients, we want to send the message that we have the capability, the resources, and the knowledge - not only the technical knowledge - but also local and cultural understanding, where we can deliver endless possibilities, endless solutions to whatever issues or challenges businesses have. We are the business partners of our clients, and our main goal is to find solutions to their problems.

We are able to translate the complexity of regulatory issues into a solution, and we relay issues faced by businesses to the government to reach a solution. It is not black and white. We sometimes need to be creative to find the best commercial solution. In particular, the government may feel like businesses are trying to stretch the law to the benefit of themselves. This is where we come in and explain why there's a misunderstanding or misconception. It could be that there is a loophole or a misinterpretation from the beginning on the scope of the law itself. Maybe the law was dated 20 years ago so you cannot say that it's still relevant after so many technological advances and more modernized practices. We act as a facilitator -- not only understanding the law but also things like cultural differences.

Our team at ANANT is resourceful and experienced in assisting clients over a range of industries, from agribusiness, real estate and construction, energy and natural resources, retail, distribution & consumer goods, and tourism & hospitality.

EuroCham: We are delighted that ANANT signed with EuroCham as a Platinum Partner this year. Why was it important to you to join as a partner and what do you hope to achieve together?

Sophealeak: We think that this partnership will prove beneficial for both of us.

There are two main reasons why we chose to be a Platinum Sponsor of Eurocham. Firstly, our four partners were all educated in France. So, we have this connection both to France and Europe, and further to the European Union, and EuroCham, and we want to keep it strong. We also have a number of European clients, too. One of our partners, Antoine Fontaine, of course has a long connection to EuroCham as well. Mr. Fontaine was the president of the French Chamber of Commerce when it joined German Business Cambodia and BritCham to form EuroCham in 2011.

The second reason is that we view EuroCham as one of the leaders in terms of business chambers, non-government actors, when it comes to improving the business climate in Cambodia, to bringing in business from abroad into Cambodia, and raising the profile of Cambodia as a country, a destination country for investment.

And at the same time, EuroCham has been at the forefront in terms of lobbying for public policy, advocacy, and this is something that we want to do a lot of. It is a cause we both share.

EuroCham: Some of the regulations are only published in Khmer too, which can be a difficult roadblock to overcome.

Sophealeak: That's one of the key issues, one of the biggest challenges for most businesses that come to Cambodia.

Even if you get it translated into your native language, you then need to be able to read between the lines. We give you the ability to connect the dots and help you deal with different local practices, and different local authorities.

So when you come to a country that you’re not familiar with, both in terms of the legal framework, in terms of culture, sociology and social understanding, in terms of how people operate, it's really important to have a proper partner. We are this kind of partner.

EuroCham: You also have extensive experience in real estate, what is your opinion on the real estate market in Cambodia and how does your work contribute to the overall market?

Sophealeak: We agree that the real estate industry is facing a challenging time.

There are some projects that still work, however, there is still demand. The problem is the financing part, how to properly finance developers, and how buyers can get financed under the right conditions.

If you look at other parts of the real estate market than residential buildings, such as industrial assets, things are looking up. There are still development projects like industrial parks and infrastructure upgrades ongoing that are very ambitious.

EuroCham: You built your strong reputation as a lawyer in the Real Estate and Construction sector and practice. I come back to my question of how do you contribute?

Sophealeak: Our main contribution is to help businesses stay in compliance. We help them raise their standard in terms of regulatory compliance, in terms of navigating the intricacies, the complexity of the Cambodian market  and the institutional context.
And by doing so, we help businesses develop a solid basis for development and growth. We are a full-service outfit, meaning we also offer business advice, product development services, and financial advice. If necessary, we can help lobby the government or mediate when there is a loophole or a confusing point in the law.

EuroCham: If I'm a prospective European investor and I'm thinking of Cambodia but I don't know too much, would you say it's a good time to invest?

Sophealeak: Any investment is welcome, of course. It is a good time in the sense that there is a new government who is eager to bring positive change to foster development with a clear vision, specifically with its “Pentagonal Strategy”. Also, it is a long-term vision in a stable and peaceful country, so these are key ingredients that draw long-term investors.

The new government focuses a lot on attracting investments, specifically in some key sectors such as agri-business, industry and digital economy. There’s also the goal of improving and upgrading the industrial base of Cambodia from garment and labor-based to a higher-value economy, while also pushing for further improvements in green infrastructure, regional connectivity, and logistics.

Some of the ways the government attracts investments is through tax incentives and embracing public-private partnerships (PPPs). Five or ten years ago, the government was more interested in concessional loans, more government-to-government. Now the government has realized – especially in the context of graduating from LDC status – that piling up loans is not sustainable. They are shaping new financing tools – improving fiscal policy, revenue collection and public spending efficiency, issuing of government bonds, the growth of the stock market, and again the priority on PPPs.

The government has also put in a lot of efforts on investment on human capital, social protection system, and sustainable and resilient infrastructure. 

EuroCham: Now that you have become partners at two prominent law firms in your career, what else would you like to achieve professionally?

Sophealeak: I want to prepare the next generation of leadership within ANANT Law Firm.

Overall, I would say, beyond my practice, it's been my ambition all along, and I think everyone's ambition within ANANT Law Firm, to help raise the standards of law practice in Cambodia, and to embrace international best practices.

As I mentioned from the beginning, we evolved along with the market and the economy and we are committed to  continue this growth with Cambodia.


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